TAMPA — They're called gimmick plays, until they work. Then, they're called masterstrokes.
In each of their past two games, the Buccaneers resorted to some trickery when venturing into the red zone. In both cases, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan gave Tampa Bay's struggling attack the green light to try something in the back of that thick playbook.
The results were deflating to the opposition and exhilerating for the Bucs, who have scored 46 points in the past two weeks after averaging only 11 points in September.
“This is a league of many ideas ... keeping people off guard is always a nice weapon to have, especially if it works,'' said Bucs left tackle Donad Penn, who showcased his soft hands as a target for rookie quarterback Mike Glennon in Monday night's 22-19 triumph against the Dolphins.
The game was only five minutes old when Penn reported as a tackle eligible. With Tampa Bay facing third down at Miami's 1-yard line, Penn lined up on the left side and was uncovered in the end zone as the Dolphins dialed up a blitz that didn't get there in time.
As Penn cradled the ball for an early 7-0 advantage, a sold-out Raymond James Stadium crowd roared in delight. The touchdown reception came almost three years to the day Penn caught a 1-yard scoring pass from Josh Freeman in a 21-0 victory at San Francisco.
While Penn displayed an impressive vertical jump Monday by tossing the football over the goalpost in the south end zone, the Dolphins immediately realized they were facing a winless opponent with nothing left to lose.
“It's real fun because it adds a little excitement to it,'' said Glennon, who faked a handoff to Brian Leonard before finding Penn wide open. “The trick play last week to Donald, you practice it all week hoping that the situation presents itself. When it does, it's kind of neat when it all comes together.''
The previous week in Seattle, it was rookie running back Mike James who turned the trick for the Buccaneers late in the opening half, with Tampa Bay already ahead 14-0.
Two plays after the Seahawks fumbled a kickoff, with the Bucs facing first down at Seattle's 2-yard line, James ran up the middle and stopped short before jumping up and floating a touchdown pass to tight end Tom Crabtree, who had been knocked on his rump before jumping up quickly.
Those two unorthodox plays were hardly improvised. They were crafted in the halls of the facility and honed on the practice fields at One Buc Place.
According to Sullivan, the Bucs kept an open mind in seeking ways to increase their production in the red zone.
“It was something we really took a hard look at throughout the offseason,'' said Sullivan, “as far as what are some of those plays, gadget plays if you will, things that if the situation arises we could call. We practiced those non-stop throughout training camp. Sometimes, it's up in the game plan but the situation doesn't arise.''
The Bucs also tried a reverse to wide receiver Skye Dawson early in the second half at Seattle that went for 14 yards.
“We've had both the jump pass and the pass that Donald caught (in the playbook) at various times and it just hasn't been the right situation,'' Sullivan said. “It was great to get those two because it gives you touchdowns instead of field goals or having to make those tough decision about fourth-and-1.''
Penn had bragged about his reliable hands to Tampa Bay's coaching staff for awhile before he got his opportunity Monday night in front of a national television audience.
We'll soon find out if Sullivan turns into Inspector Gadget again on Sunday afternoon, when the struggling Falcons come to town for a divisional matchup.
“It's a great tool to have, as long as it works,'' Penn said. “It keeps people honest and keeps people on their guard. We practice and practice these plays and when they work on game day, it's a great feeling.''